Final Order Ends New Mexico Horse Slaughter Plant Case

A District Court judge in New Mexico has issued a final order that blocks several entities from developing a horse processing plant in that state.

Horse processing has not taken place in the United States since 2007 when a combination of court rulings and legislation shuttered the last two domestic equine processing plants operating in Illinois and Texas. Horse processing once again became possible in the United States in 2011 when Congress passed an appropriations bill that did not contain language specifically forbidding the USDA from using federal dollars to fund horsemeat inspections. Shortly after that bill became law, horse process plants were proposed in several states; one of those potential plants was a facility in Roswell, New Mexico, owned by Valley Meats Co. LLC. In June 2013, Valley Meats' owners announced that the company had received a federal permit allowing USDA personnel to inspect horsemeat at the plant.

New Mexico's then-Attorney General Gary King subsequently filed a lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order and an injunction preventing the firm from launching its horse processing operation. In January 2014, the court issued a primary injunction stopping Valley Meats from opening its plant.

Last year, in a letter to the court, current Attorney General Hector Balderas requested that the injunction be extended to include owners of D’Allende Meats, a firm launched by an investment group which purchased the Roswell plant from Valley Meats. Balderas alleged that D'Allende Meats is a shell company whose owners have close with ties to Valley Meats and that the new firm intended to eventually process horses. New Mexico District Court Judge Francis Mathew extended the injunction against Valley Meats to include D'Allende Meats, which prevents the successor firm from processing horses at the Roswell plant. At the same time, Mathew refused to dismiss the original lawsuit filed in 2013 against the owners of Valley Meat.

On Feb. 4, Mathew issued a final order stating that Valley Meat Company LLC; Dairyland Packing, Inc; Mountain View Packing LLC and Ricardo De Los Santos; non-parties Jose Hernandez and Ryoichi Okubo; D'Allende Meats LLC, “and any person or entity in privity with the above all are permanently enjoined from slaughtering horses for human consumption, and from manufacturing, selling, or distributing horsemeat products for human consumption in New Mexico.”

Attorney Bruce Wagman, spokesman for Schiff Hardin, the law firm that represented plaintiffs including Front Range Equine Rescue and four Roswell residents in the case, believes the order confirms that American horsemeat is potentially toxic and prevents potential environmental damage that horse processing plant development could cause.

“This is also a signal to any would-be horse slaughter operators throughout America that their efforts would suffer similar defeat, since the food quality and water quality and environmental laws at issue in this case have parallels statutes in most states in the country,” Wagman opined.

A. Blair Dunn, attorney for case defendants including Valley Meats and De Los Santos, disagreed.

“This only applies to Valley Meats (and the other defendants in the case); it is not a blanket, permanent ban on horse slaughter in New Mexico,” Dunn relayed. “It holds in place the injunction against Valley (and the other defendants and) unless and until something changes and they could petition the court to have it lifted.”

Meanwhile, Dunn said his clients have “absolutely no plans and have not for quite some time to process horses or anything else, for that matter.”

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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